The government’s watchdog on business appointments has claimed there are no boundaries between ex-civil servants and the private sector and that the system needs urgent reform in light of the Greensill Capital lobbying scandal.
Lord Eric Pickles, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), has told MPs today that a former senior civil servant’s involvement with Greensill Capital “shouldn’t take place and couldn’t be taking place without a very clear, tight regulated system”.
It was revealed by Pickles earlier this week that ex-mandarin Bill Crothers, the government’s former chief procurement office, had taken up an appointment with the recently failed finance firm in 2015 while still working in Whitehall.
The appointment was approved by the Cabinet Office, however Acoba was not informed about the appointment.
It comes as a part of the wider Greensill Capital lobbying scandal, which saw ex-PM David Cameron pressure ministers and civil servants to give contracts and government bailouts to the firm.
“It’s fair to say, to misquote P.G. Wodehouse, my eyebrows did raise a full quarter inch when I heard about this,” Pickles said.
“I’ve been in public life a long time…and I’ve never come across something quite like this before.”
Pickles told parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee today that he still did not know who from the Cabinet Office approved gave Crothers the green light to work at Greensill.
He said it demonstrated the need for tougher rules on what positions in the private sector civil services and ministers can take up.
“Part of the problem we’ve got is that it has not been clear where the boundaries lay,” he said.
“In fact…there doesn’t seem to have been any boundaries at all.”
Acoba is charged with giving advice to ex-civil servants and former ministers on what jobs they can ethically take up after leaving government.
The body has in the past been described as “toothless” by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee as it doesn’t have strong powers to hold government figures to account.
Former Home Office permanent secretary Sir David Normington today told the BBC that he was “absolutely amazed” by Crothers’ case.
“We’re not just talking here about any old civil servant,” he said.
“We’re talking about someone who was responsible for commercial dealings in government and had oversight of relations with a large number of major contractors and the handling of lots of public money.
“But worse, I think, this enabled him to evade scrutiny of his appointment after he had left the civil service, and that is completely unacceptable.”